Refueling or Recharging?

KPMG’s Global Automotive Executive Survey has surfaced skepticism around the ability to scale pure battery powered electric vehicles.  

Instead the surveyed industry leaders expect fuel cell powered electric vehicles as the platform for producing hundreds of millions of EVs.

According to the survey:

Battery electric vehicles (BEV) are not the only way forward: more than three-quarters of global executives say fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEV) will be the real break-through for electric mobility. Executives project an even split by 2040 for BEVs (26%), FCEVs (25%), internal combustion engines s (25%) and hybrids (24%). [KPMG]

The Takeaway? ‘Electric’ = The Motor (Not the Battery) 

The survey taps into a widely misunderstood dynamic of vehicle ‘electrification’.

In recent years the term ‘electric vehicle’ has become synonymous with battery powered cars.

This is largely due to the popularity of Tesla’s brand and other plug-in vehicles (e.g. Nissan Leaf).


When we say ‘electric’ vehicles this refers to the electric motor – not the battery.

Electric motors differ from the legacy platform of heat engines that use liquid fuels.

Electric motors are the real innovation (e.g. torque, less maintenance, fewer moving parts)


How we power those electric motors is the center of debate and a wonky battle to win the hearts and minds of both industry leaders and consumers!

When we look beyond today’s ‘hybrid’ integration of battery and combustion engine there are two pathways forward toward electrification:

  • Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) that only use batteries to power electric motors. EVs are recharged.
  • Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs) integrate fuel cells and batteries. EVs are refueled with hydrogen.

** There are other ‘EV hybrid’ models that take BEV platforms and install ‘range extender’ fuel cells in a less traditional chassis configuration.


What is the future of EVs?

When we listen to industry disruptors like Elon Musk and amateur cleantech bloggers it seems that ‘batteries have won’ and fuel cells are no longer a viable way forward.

The industry sentiment is different.

Industry leaders see this multi-decade long transition as a marathon not a sprint.

Most industry leaders expect several platforms to emerge in the next few decades.  We will see ICEs, BEVs, PHEVs, FCEVs.

Despite this early lead of BEVs there remain significant doubts that battery powered vehicles can scale up to hundreds of millions of vehicles.

FCEVs offer advantages of:

  • lower cost to mass,
  • lower cost hydrogen refueling infrastructure at scale and performance
  • more versatility on the needs of a range of vehicles from passenger cars, short haul trucks, long haul trucks, et al.

We will save a more detailed ‘case for fuel cells’ in another post!

In the end it is likely to be the ‘integration’ of these two platforms – energy storage and power production that allows the industry to scale out EVs into volumes of tens of millions of vehicles per year.

Learn More

KPMG’s Global Automotive Executive Survey Interactive: 

KPMG Automotive Sector Insights:






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